Defining white Finnish privilege #34: Building a political career on privilege and nativist nationalism

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Social Democrat MP Satu Taavitsainen found herself in a lot of hot water this week after she published a picture of herself in Instagram wearing a fake Sámi dress. While this is a no-no because minorities like the Sámi may see it as cultural appropriation, an MP like Taavitsainen should know better. 

But she didn’t, and hasn’t.

She claims that the Sámi dress she published a picture of in Instragram was made by a tailor for her mother and wanted to show it off. However, this is not the first time that the MP from Mikkeli has dressed up in Sámi attire. In the 2015 parliamentary elections, she was pictured wearing a four winds Sámi hat, called čiehgahpir.

That picture above can no longer be found on her website.

While this whole affair raises a lot of question, why did Taavitsainen want to show off to her many Intagram followers her fake, or feikkigáktien, Sámi dress?

What’s wrong with what she did anyway?

If the SDP MP would have taken a little time to study the history of the Sámi and what they think in today’s Finland, she’d understand why it’s advisable not to do what she did. The reaction against what she did is one of many eamples.

Another problem that should be highlighted is not the physical dress per se but the message it sends about a minority like the Sámi.

For one, Taavitsainen, a white Finn, has the privilege and power to be “a Sámi” for a day if she wishes without carrying the burden of history of these people, which they must endure 365 days of the year.

The SDP MP made matters even sorse by claiming what she worse isn’t fake but authentic, and calling members of the Sámi minority “fundamentalists.”

If we look at Taavitsainen’s Facebook wall and the discussion it has spurred, all of those taking sides with her are white Finns, which again reveals privilege and power.

My first meeting

I met Taavitsainen the first time in 2012 at the school where I teach near Mikkeli. She was one of the panelists in the 2011 parliamentary elections representing the Social Democratic Party. Considering that about 90% of the members of the audience were students from countries such as Somalia, Myanmar and others, the MP openly blamed foreign workers in Finland for driving down wages.

The SDP MP has a right to her opinions but we should note that these types of claims are used by right-wing populists like US President Donald Trump.  They are toxic arguments because they reinforce “us” and “them” and offer no solutions, only scapegoat.

Knowing my own views on Finland’s asylum policy, the MP suggested in 2015 that I shouldn’t be “naive” about the issue. At an anti-racism meeting, she even questioned my Finnish identity even if I am a Finnish citizen and my mother is Finnish.

In 2015, she posted in Facebook that she agreed with retired SDP MP Kari Rajamäki, a tough anti-immigration politician, who built his political career on hardline anti-immigration and anti-refugee stances.

The statement below exposes that MP Taavitsainen is fixated, like many anti-immigration populist politicians, of crimes committed by Muslims and Rajamäki’s handwriting.

MP Taavitsainen writes on her Facebook wall in December 2015: “I’m of the same opinion as Kari Rajamäki. We’ve been too naive. Finland should not become a country where parents have second thoughts about sending their children to school by themselves or play in playgrounds without parental supervision.” This posting by the SDP MP was made when Finland got over 32,000 asylum seekers and their were fears that their would be a rape and crime wave in Finland, which didn’t happen. Instead of calming people she chose to fear-monger.

The blog entry above by Petra, which was written by a Sámi activist, strongly criticizes Taavitsainen of matters like cultural appropriation and reinforcing stereotypes of such a group.

She writes: “Once again a Finn has dressed up with the Sámi’s most visible cultural symbol and uses it as her own identity. In Finland there are five types of Sámi costums used in five regions: Utsjoki, Vuotso, Enontekiö as well as Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi costumes.”

Petra continues: “Taavitsainen also accused the Sámi community of having arbitrary views [when speaking of the Sámi’s dress] and raised an age-old argument, ‘who is a Sámi – who can claim the rights of the Sámi? Such an arbitrary argument is ironic and shows that the Sámi still don’t have the right to define who they are since the Finnish Parliament rejected that right to define themselves stipulated by the Finnish Sámi Parliament.”

But Taavitsainen is adamant on her Facebook wall: “Certainly my mother’s costume is real. Let’s be proud of our roots!”

Source: Facebook.

UPDATE (22.4): Even if Taavitsainen claims that her family has lived in Lapland for 600 years, it’s important to note that one is brought up as a Sámi and it cannot inherited biologically as Taavitsainen incorrectly believes. For example, an adopted child, irrespective of his or her ethnic background, can become a Sámi if that person is brought up to become a member of such community, according to Heivu.

Definition #34

MP Taavitsainen, who claims to be so close to the Sámi, actually shows contempt and disrespect for that very culture she claims to “love.” Her action and reaction show as well how white Finnish white privilege is used at the expense of minorities like the Sámi.

Taavitsainen’s own views of cultural diversity, coupled by her “fascination” of groups like the Sámi, may reveal something more worrying matters like nativist nationalism.

For me, an anti-racism activist who has lived in Finland most of his adult life, Taavitsainen’s record, action and reaction to the feikkigáktien scandal reveal as well that she is forging a political career with nativist nationalism and “us” versus “them” discourse.

Another matter that worries me about Taavitsainen is that during her mandate as a municipal politician and MP, I haven’t seen her once speak positively, never mind mention, anything about migrants living in Mikkeli and Finland unless it has to do with how “incompatible Islam is with Finland.”

Moreover, if Taavitsainen is allegedly getting advice from people like retired MP Rajamäki and Hannu Vesa, a former South Savo district director who has similar anti-cultural diversity views, it may suggest that that is her plan: Be a white socialist spreading nativist nationalism.

Taavitsainen is also a good example of the serious issues that the SDP faces concerning its views of our ever-growing culturally diverse community made up of migrants and minorities.

An op-ed piece in Helsingin Sanomat by Yrjö Rautio highlighted the problem to a tee. Contrary to the Greens, Left Alliance and Swedish People’s Party, the SDP’s stance on cultural diversity is still unclear.

Here are two links that can open up this topic further:

See also: